USSR and Russia

glevy at acnet.pratt.edu glevy at acnet.pratt.edu
Wed Jun 14 19:34:56 MDT 1995


We must have addressed these questions at a previous point before I came
on-line, but after the exchange among Scott, Lisa, Justin, Walter and
others, I think it is important to put the downfall of the USSR in a
historical context.

1) The inefficiencies of the Soviet economy were **not** the primary
reason for the collapse of the USSR. However, those inefficiencies do put
Gorbachev's "perestroika" in a historical context.  While the USSR was
relatively stable economically and certainly proved that it was capable
of self-reproduction, it was not efficient compared to advanced
capitalist nations.  Gorbachev's "perestroika" (restructuring along the
lines of "market socialism") was **intended** to make the Soviet economy
more efficient.

2) How would that increased efficiency and productivity of labor be
accomplished?  Through increased investment and increased "sacrifice"
(i.e. increased intensity of labor, unemployment, and decreased wages and
benefits).

3) And how did Gorbachev plan to get the necessary resources and funds
for investment?  I believe that the record will show that he saw a arms
control agreement with the US as critical for that purpose.  The idea
was, given the massive expenditure of resources on armaments to compete
with the US in the "arms race", if Gorbachev could be able to broker a
deal with the US concerning disarmament, then he could free up tremendous
amounts of resources for a) investment in new technologies, plant and
equipment which would increase the productivity of labor in Soviet
industries and agriculture; and b) increased production of consumer goods.
One must recall the history of shortages of basic consumer goods and the
social instability that those shortages gave rise to.  If Gorbachev could
"deliver" on consumption goods then it would be easier for him to get the
Soviet people to go along with the sacrifices required for restructuring.

4) Reagan and Bush did not have the same incentive to come to an arms
agreement with the USSR.  If Gorbachev came to an arms agreement it would
have resulted in increased investment and standards of living.  The US
economy, however, doesn't have full employment and has to worry about the
demand effects of unemployment on income, spending and profitability.
Also, clearly Reagan-Bush **wanted** to destabilize the Soviet economy.
Consequently, **part** of the failure of perestroika was made possible by
US policy.

5) For Gorbachev to convince Soviet workers to make the sacrifices
necessary for restructuring, he had to **not only** increase consumption
goods production.  He offered them another carrot as well -- glasnost
(openness).  The **dynamic** of glasnost was the process that eventually
led to the Soviet Union, quite literally, coming apart at the seams.
Gorbachev must have thought that he could control the process of
glasnost.  This was a **historic** miscalculation.  One must remember
that Soviet workers, peasants, and nationalities had been brutally
repressed by the Soviet state for over seventy years.  Only fear and
repression had allowed the grievances of Soviet citizens to be held at
bay.

6) At first, most Soviet citizens didn't believe that glasnost was real.
If they spoke out, they feared KGB repression.  But, Gorbachev was able
to convince them in time that it was real -- at least for the time
being.  The Soviet masses realized that they had been presented with a
historic window of opportunity that could close at any time.  Grievances
of workers and nationalities were finally given free expression to and
non-CP political parties and non-state controlled media (e.g. newspapers)
were allowed.  Gorbachev must have thought that he could still control
the process but the Brezhnev-wing of the CP began to think otherwise.

7) The biggest movements for social change came from the non-Russian
nations within the USSR.  Gorbachev **should have known** that, given the
history of Russification and repression of non-Russian nationalities, it
was only a matter of time before many of those nations demanded autonomy
or independence.  They were not put off by Gorbachev's promises
concerning a "new" USSR in which the rights of nations to
self-determination would be respected.  Their historical experience
suggested that the Soviet leadership and state could not be trusted.
Once there was a move by these nations for independence, the downfall of
the USSR was assured.  Of course, strikes by workers and resistance
within the Party didn't help Gorbachev's restructuring either (which, in
any case, turned out to be a failure).

8) At the point when it appeared that the Soviet Union would dissolve
into many separate nations, some of the Brezhnev-style party leaders took
control with the infamous "coup" (They were supported in this move by
sections of the Red Army leadership and most of the KGB).  The coup
leaders also committed a **historic** blunder.  They underestimated the
degree of yearning for democratic change that the Soviet masses wanted
and the degree to which the masses would resist a return to more
authoritarian (totalitarian) forms of government.  The coup leaders were
incredibly short-sighted.  One would have thought that they would at
least have obtained more support from regional leaders and the Red Army
before declaring martial law.  When the Red Army ranks refused to fire on
unarmed civilians defending the "White House" and Yeltsin, the coup was
finished.  They had seized power but were unable to hold it (a classical
failing of coup d' etats).

9) When the coup was ended I **cheered**.  No argument about the current
situation in Russia can serve as a excuse for the coup.  After the coup,
Gorbachev's career and plans were finished.  Yeltsin, made a even more
popular hero by riding out the coup, became ever more powerful than
Gorbachev.  At this point, the USSR was finished.

10) Some have argued that ending Soviet rule was a bit like throwing out
the baby with the bathtub.  I have some sympathies with this belief.
While Soviet workers and nationalities were brutally repressed by the
Soviet state, they had also made some very significant gains in terms of
economic rights.  I certainly would have preferred that Russia continue
to call itself "socialist" and that real democratic (non-bureaucratic)
socialism be created.

11)  Why did this not happen?  The Russian people, I believe, identified
socialism with
the Communist Party.  After all, who was it that told them for decades
about the great virtues of "socialism"?  And who was it that repressed
them during those same years?  The same people.  The Communist Party
lacked credibility when it talked about the need for democracy and
socialism.  Consequently, **a very large** burden for the collapse of the
USSR must be placed squarely on the shoulders of the Communist Party.
They were the ones, not Yeltsin or Bush, who made socialism into a dirty
word.  Had there been a mass left socialist political alternative, the
result might have been different.

12) NO ONE on this list celebrates the suffering of the Russian people
today.  They have discovered what the realities of capitalism can mean
and are experiencing misery and improverishment caused by the high rate
of unemployment (higher than the worst year in the US during the Great
Depression) and hyper-inflation.  In terms of the standard of living for
most people, there **is no question** that they are worse off today.
However, my own belief is that if one supports democracy, then one must
also allow for a democratic outcome other than the one that you
desired.  Consequently, I would have to say that Russian people are going
to have to ** learn for themselves** the meaning of capitalism and the
need for a new **real** socialism.

13) This outcome was not inevitable.  Had there been revolutionary
transformations in the advanced capitalist nations or successful
political revolutions in any workers' state,  the chain of historical
events would have been altered markedly.  Had the Soviet people, for
instance, **seen** other nations that were socialist, democratic, and
non-bureaucratic, then they might very well have brought about political
change and socialism within the USSR as well.  As socialists in one such
advanced capitalist nation we have to bear a **small** amount of
responsibility for what did and did not occur.

"Of all the sad words of mice and men, the saddest of these is: it could
have been."

Jerry


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